While the San Fransisco Defense has garnered much attention for their physical style of play, offensively the 49ers present an all-new challenge. Probably one of the biggest stories of the NFL season HC Kyle Shanahan’s ability to blend a rugged running game with RPO’s, and big gains, using various weapons acquired by GM John Lynch. If the Chiefs are to win it will be paramount that they are able to stop the ground attack, limiting All-Pro TE George Kittle, and limiting dangerous flex player Deebo Samuel. Time to dive in and see what makes the 49er’s offense tick, as well as look at some ways they can be beaten.
San Fransisco likes to go RB by committee and they have three very capable RBs in Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Matt Breida. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk was a huge acquisition for them in the offseason as he is a key player in being a lead blocker for their zone runs. Below shows how they are able to combine different types of motion with Kittle and Juszcyzyk and play side zone blocking to open up big lanes on the backside.
The ability to run the ball opens up all kinds of play-action sets, as well as RPOs. Deebo Samuel is a burner, very comparable to Tyreek Hill with similar versatility and speed. Below they get him into space off of an RPO run. He can fly so accounting for him is a must.
The Niners generally have good pass protection and a very good OL but at times Jimmy Garoppolo has hit the panic button when he comes under pressure. As Jadevon Clowney gets into the backfield Garoppolo doesn’t step up and instead he takes his eyes away from downfield and just puts his head down and runs into the line. It will be key for the Chiefs to find ways to rush the passer and if they blitz they must get home.
When Garoppolo does have time and his men have space he has no trouble getting the ball out to his guys. As the play-action freezes the backers the middle opens up for Samuel to come back in on his route.
Garoppolo’s favorite target is without question George Kittle. He is the MVP of the 49ers offense for his ability to block like an OL as well as catch passes with the best of them. He has very good contact balance and can break tackles like a mad man. He doesn’t have killer speed but arm tackling this guy and going high will not work.
The go-to on third and medium shows that while he is a big bruiser he also has the hands and athleticism to catch balls that aren’t right out in front of him. He uses his size and physical play style to create separation on backers and safeties in order to open himself up.
I was a fan of the RPO play below because it blends so well how when teams over-commit to stopping the run on these guys they use it to open up another can of worms. Speed kills and once again Samuel catches the ball with a lot of room to run.
Kittle to the middle seems to be a favorite route concept for the 49ers. As the other wideouts clear space on go routes, Kittle gets behind the defenders which opens up a window for Garoppolo get him the ball. The Chiefs will need to keep their emphasis on tackling players low around the waist or knees again this week. Just like Derrick Henry, Kittle can tear through arm tackles.
While they employ a lot of zone heavy running concepts the Niners will run the ball at any given time. This play the Packers were lined up ready to stop a pass on third down. San Fransisco responds by running a trap for a touchdown of all things. They took the Packers to town running the ball and won convincingly by only having Garoppolo throw eight passes. They have a wide arsenal of plays so we could all expect to see anything on Sunday.
The outside zone is where they get their biggest chunks running the ball. As they motion over Kittle he continues outside while Juyzcyck blocks the man in front of Kittle, allowing him to seal the edge and let Kittle get up to the second level. As the OL seals off the inside Mostert hits the seam created for a nice gain.
Despite how well they run the ball the best way to beat physicality is with more physicality. The Minnesota Vikings had a good game plan to stop San Fransisco but were just outgunned. Here DT Lindval Joseph takes the center and throws him into the gap clogging up the cutback lane as the edge defenders were working to not be sealed inside. Chris Jones, Mike Pennel, Derick Nadi, Khalen Saunders and the rest of the interior DL will be huge this week and could be the difference in winning and losing if they can defeat blocks and double teams.
One thing the 49ers are not is a team that plays well from behind the sticks. Below is a third and long situation, they try to get men opened up but Minnesota is playing very good zone coverage. The pressure forces Garoppolo out of the pocket and he is sacked for no gain, as well as bringing up fourth and a mile. If the Chiefs are able to force the 49ers to play a brand of football they might not be comfortable playing it could be a big factor in the game.
At times Garoppolo has been proven to be prone to trying to force balls into tighter windows than he should or also locking in on a receiver one too many times. Here he locks in on Deebo Samuel, who gets his man to turn around as he heads back on the in route, but it is all a set up to get Erick Kendrick of the Vikings who intercepts the pass. Turnovers can be killers and for most of the season, the 49ers have played pretty efficiently with the ball. If the Chiefs were to get a few early turnovers it could change the whole outcome of the game.
Stopping the run will still be the major factor in this game. While KC didn’t completely sell out to stop run vs Tennesee a week ago, they will again pick and choose when to deploy DL heavy formations to combat the run. Minnesota gets in a real run preventing look here in almost a Bear look, different from their usual 4-3 structure. We saw a similar structure on a few plays from the Chiefs in the AFCCG. As Minnesota creates one on one matchups due to bodies across the line, another LB comes down to take out Juszyck forcing Breida to continue to the sideline where Kendricks ends up making the tackle for a very small gain.
The 49ers pose an interesting challenge for the Chiefs to try to stop this Sunday. They combine the run and pass well as well as speed and power. For the third time this postseason Steve Spagnuolo will have his work cut out for him. The first two playoff games the Chiefs gave up some points early but in both they have only given up two combined touchdowns. Anything can happen in such a big situation and both sides will get their shots in. It will be a game of execution.